Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

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Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby mal4mac » Mon Aug 05, 2013 11:22 am

Pepper suggests:

“The goal is not acceptance, retreat, and detachment, but engagement and judgment and change. We are not a “pure self” corrupted by social formations, but a self constructed as always-already corrupt and ignorant and suffering, and the only way to change that is to transform our social system.”

http://speculativenonbuddhism.com/2013/ ... o-bhikkhu/

This seems to me to be an entirely spurious argument. Acceptance, retreat, and detachment seem an entirely valid way to transform one’s social system! Ajahn Geoff certainly transformed his by moving to a Thai monastery. Tom Pepper seems to be suggesting a highly engaged attempt to change the society we find ourselves in. But is it worth enduring a lot of suffering to seek a very uncertain social outcome, that might even result in far worse social conditions (Russian revolution... etc...)

Personally, I think minimal engagement is appropriate in Western democracies... vote every few years... but when the corrupt get in again, as they will, whatever you do, you haven’t wasted years continuously demonstrating, going to endless meetings, fighting coppers, and doings loads of things that disturb your sanity and tranquility.

“... our contemporary “spiritual but not religious” attitude... assumes that no matter what I do (lie, steal, cheat on my spouse, exploit the poor, support military oppression of third world people, etc.) I will go to heaven …”

This is just rhetorical rubbish, which “spiritual but not religious” people have this attitude? OK, maybe some, but not any I know, and certainly not “most”.
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Aug 07, 2013 5:15 am

Hi,
Your opening quote makes more sense (or maybe means something a bit different) in the context of the whole article, which I do encourage everyone to read.
One question Pepper raises is (roughly) "whether we should engage in efforts to improve our society". It is not a "spurious" argument at all but a very good question. I happen think everyone except ordained monks should answer in the affirmative, but the other side of the argument has plenty of supporters too. Pepper's discussion is worth reading.
The rest of the article deals with (1) whether Thanissaro Bhikku gets more respect than he deserves, just because he has an Asian name and wears a robe, and (2) whether Thanissaro is a dualist or not, and whether such dualism is really Buddhist or not.

:namaste:
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby mal4mac » Wed Aug 07, 2013 11:52 am

Kim OHara wrote:
One question Pepper raises is (roughly) "whether we should engage in efforts to improve our society"... I happen think everyone except ordained monks should answer in the affirmative...


Why?

Many people are forced to "engage in efforts to improve our society", as a secondary measure, because they need to find a job. The primary measure being, of course, to make enough money to live! But what about the retired? Why can't they spend all their time meditating like monks, if they want to?
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Anagarika » Wed Aug 07, 2013 1:06 pm

Who the heck is Tom Pepper, and why is he a featured guest at this cocktail party?

My take on Pepper is that he is a bit meanspirited, and is somehow trying to make a minor name for himself by attacking scholars like Thanissaro Bhikkhu. From the bits and pieces I've read on speculativebuddhism.com , Peppers come across as reasonably intelligent with a nasty narcissism streak. He's a professor of English at a small college in Connecticut, also taking grad school classes in psychology. Writing of the practice of teaching English, he "Peppers' his comments with denigration of his own colleagues : "Anyone who can read Conrad can read Zizek or Althusser. Of course, many of my colleagues can’t read either, so they are really just covering their incompetence by claiming it is their students who can’t understand theory."

It's always charming when someone believes themselves to be the smartest person in the room, or on the campus. Peppers might believe his colleagues to be incompetent, but I'm guessing they are doing fine for their students. He strikes me as the insecure, wannabe intellectual who believes the fastest way to the top is to try to drag those at the top down. Tracking him down further, he is " A completely amateur Buddhist, who has never been a monk in any tradition, Tom is a member and associate teacher at the Buddhist Faith Fellowship of Connecticut, where he teaches Buddhist Sunday School and helps lead study groups for newcomers to Buddhism." http://www.bffct.net/

This sangha is a Shin group, and has the following (http://www.bffct.net/id71.html) as its "What We Believe":

15. We believe….the Pure Land is the realm of enlightenment (nirvana) and a concrete image of emptiness (shunyata), which is the transcending deathless and eternal dominion beyond conception, devoid of hatred, greed and ignorance.

16. We believe….death is a new beginning, in which we ascend to the Pure Land, only then do we return to this world to help all beings realize enlightenment.


OK, Tom Peppers, this is what you believe. So why all the animosity toward Ven. Thanissaro? Again, I think you're a fly trying to take a bite out of the rhino's rear end. It's pesky, might get you some attention, but I'm pretty sure the rhino will survive.
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby mal4mac » Wed Aug 07, 2013 6:01 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:My take on Pepper is that he is a bit meanspirited, and is somehow trying to make a minor name for himself by attacking scholars like Thanissaro Bhikkhu.


Having read some of Thanissaro's translations I just did a search to see what people thought of his views & interpretations, and Pepper was at the top of the search. He is a bit ill tempered, and prone to unhelpful denigration, but I thought he raised a few interesting questions.

BuddhaSoup wrote:...his sangha is a Shin group, and has the following (http://www.bffct.net/id71.html) as its "What We Believe"...


Just because he attends this group you can't suggest he agrees with all the stuff on their website... I've known church attenders who didn't believe a word of the Christian myths but just went there 'cause they liked the smoke & singing.

Why not turn all that angry energy against Pepper's arguments rather than looking for flaws in his character and CV?
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Anagarika » Wed Aug 07, 2013 7:45 pm

Why not turn all that angry energy against Pepper's arguments rather than looking for flaws in his character and CV?


I did try to address the arguments in the "Thanissaro and "Soul" ' thread here on DW.

I'm not angry, but I do feel it's somewhat relevant to determine, when someone is attacking a respected Vinaya teacher personally, what that person's agenda might be. It helps me understand the bias and where the bias might be coming from. It helps me assess the writer's credibility. Pepper suggested himself in his own words that he understands he is more knowledgeable than Ajahn Geoff about nearly everything known to man, but for Pali translation. Pepper suggests his colleagues are incompetent. So, you're right, I am spending some time on Pepper's CV and his bias, having spent some time earlier on the arguments.

Pepper and Glen Wallis have a book coming out this year. Except for good writing and good scholarship, nothings sells books like a little angst, denigration of others, and controversy. See http://www.existentialbuddhist.com/tag/glenn-wallis/ for a much better analysis of what I was trying to convey.

Dr. Segall said it far better than I could have: "I’ll continue to read Wallis’s blog. He has interesting and important things to say. It’s helpful to grapple with ideas that challenge one’s own assumptions. He’s a member of my club — the club of Westerners struggling with the gift of centuries of Buddhist practice, devotion, and contention. But I hope he finds a way to be more at home in the world, more happy, and — dare I say it — more joyous. And I hope he discovers a tone of voice that’s less prickly, less irritating, less dismissive, and — dare I say it — more consistent with Buddhist aspirations."

I hope that in my writings on these subjects on DW, I did not drift too far from Right Speech. If I did, apologies to all.
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Zom » Wed Aug 07, 2013 7:52 pm

I'm not angry, but I do feel it's somewhat relevant to determine, when someone is attacking a respected Vinaya teacher personally, what that person's agenda might be.


He does not attack him personally. He attacks his views which is a very different thing.

And, by the way, no matter how teacher is respected and famous, he still can have wrong views. Look for "Four Great References" here in DN16 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .vaji.html
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Mr Man » Wed Aug 07, 2013 7:56 pm

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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Anagarika » Wed Aug 07, 2013 8:06 pm

Zom wrote:
I'm not angry, but I do feel it's somewhat relevant to determine, when someone is attacking a respected Vinaya teacher personally, what that person's agenda might be.


He does not attack him personally. He attacks his views which is a very different thing.

And, by the way, no matter how teacher is respected and famous, he still can have wrong views. Look for "Four Great References" here in DN16 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .vaji.html


Zom, respectfully, the comments from Pepper did have quite a bit of personal zing to them. If you've read through all of the cited writings, Pepper goes out of his way to couch some of his arguments as personal toward Ven. Thanissaro ("robe wearing Monk from Oz" ?? or something to that effect). That was my take on it, anyway.
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Mr Man » Wed Aug 07, 2013 8:16 pm

Zom wrote:
I'm not angry, but I do feel it's somewhat relevant to determine, when someone is attacking a respected Vinaya teacher personally, what that person's agenda might be.


He does not attack him personally. He attacks his views which is a very different thing.


I'm not sure if it is a very different thing. Where is the divide?
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Mr Man » Wed Aug 07, 2013 8:42 pm

I want to ask this simple question: What would we make of these teachings if they were offered by Geoffrey DeGraff from New York, if he dressed in chinos and an oxford shirt instead of saffron robes, if he offered his ideas as coming from some Western tradition instead of from translations of exotic ancient texts?
Sounds like a serious question but is it? Really isn't it irrelivent and a bit of a smear
Just as importantly, for those among us who do not accept a radical dualism and hope for an afterlife of eternal bliss in a state of infantile imaginary plenitude as compensation for our miserable lives here on earth, what is the ideological function of Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s Thai Forest teaching in the period of late capitalism? Is it an ideological function we should be tolerant of?
Does anyone think Ajahn Thanissaro is teaching/practicing for an "afterlife of eternal bliss in a state of infantile imaginary plenitude as compensation for our miserable lives here on earth" seems again like a bit of a smear. Is it an accurate representation?

"what is the ideological function of Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s Thai Forest teaching in the period of late capitalism?" what kind of nonsense is this. "An ideological function in the period of late capitalism?"!!! Get a grip.

This is not serious it is a game.
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Kim OHara » Wed Aug 07, 2013 11:18 pm

mal4mac wrote:
Kim OHara wrote:
One question Pepper raises is (roughly) "whether we should engage in efforts to improve our society"... I happen think everyone except ordained monks should answer in the affirmative...


Why?

Many people are forced to "engage in efforts to improve our society", as a secondary measure, because they need to find a job. The primary measure being, of course, to make enough money to live! But what about the retired? Why can't they spend all their time meditating like monks, if they want to?

My own primary reason for thinking we should try to improve society is simply active compassion: when we can see that some aspects of society are causing needless suffering and that there is a way to reduce that suffering, we should try to do so. It can be as easy as giving old clothes to a thrift shop instead of putting them in the bin or as demanding and confronting as volunteering in a Cambodian orphanage for a year - that's a personal choice. But turning your back on suffering is bad for your own spiritual progress (there's a reason such behaviour is called self ish) and for those in need.

Pepper's reason for social engagement is quite different, and it's one I haven't seen before. He says that the self is produced (constructed, generated) by society and that therefore the only way to change the self for the better is to change society. The logic of his argument is sound - chocolate will only take the shape of the mould it is poured into, so if you want a chocolate frog instead of a chocolate bunny, you need to change the mould.
However, his idea of the 'society' which shapes the 'self' is unrealistic in that an individual is shaped by the society s/he experiences, not society-as-a-whole. For instance, I spend my working day in a primary school and my neighbour spends his on a mining site, so the 'society' I experience and am shaped by is therefore quite different from the society he experiences.
Food for thought, nevertheless.

:namaste:
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby mal4mac » Thu Aug 08, 2013 12:21 pm

My own primary reason for thinking we should try to improve society is simply active compassion: when we can see that some aspects of society are causing needless suffering and that there is a way to reduce that suffering, we should try to do so. It can be as easy as giving old clothes to a thrift shop instead of putting them in the bin or as demanding and confronting as volunteering in a Cambodian orphanage for a year - that's a personal choice. But turning your back on suffering is bad for your own spiritual progress.


I'm certainly not suggesting turning our backs on suffering.

As you work in a primary school don't you think you are doing enough to make a better world? A billion aspects of society are causing needless suffering, and we can see ways to reduce that suffering, but wouldn't we go nuts, if we tried to fix everything?

"The world is too much with us", and I think the monks are entitled to avoid the world as much as possible. But, then again, aren't we all equally entitled? I think, when we are forced to encounter the world, like the monks, we should do so with utmost compassion, and not turn our backs so on it. But if we are not drawn to pursue endless, self-motivated, compassionate action, but instead are drawn to scholarship and meditation, we should not feel guilty in taking the path of scholarship or meditation. This is not turning our backs on suffering, it is pursuing an alternative, but equally valid, path.

[Pepper] says that the self is produced (constructed, generated) by society and that therefore the only way to change the self for the better is to change society.


I partially agree with this, if people were nicer one's life would be better. But I think I've changed myself, a liitle bit, for the better through meditating & reading. So I know that there are other ways to change the self for the better than to change society. And those ways are likely to be more succesful, 'cause you only have to change one little thing. But, of course, I'm not suggesting never trying to change society! Keep on voting...
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Crazy cloud » Thu Aug 08, 2013 2:18 pm

In my opinion is the task of keeping the path open and acsessible for future seekers, a very noble and compassionate act of giving and reciving. And who else is there to keep the path clear ..

metta

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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby pulga » Thu Aug 08, 2013 3:44 pm

I'm just curious -- and a little disconcerted -- about just what sort of society Pepper would have in store for us.
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Kusala » Sun Aug 11, 2013 7:05 am

pulga wrote:I'm just curious -- and a little disconcerted -- about just what sort of society Pepper would have in store for us.


Perhaps...a utopian society? :thinking:
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Aug 11, 2013 10:02 am

Kusala wrote:
pulga wrote:I'm just curious -- and a little disconcerted -- about just what sort of society Pepper would have in store for us.


Perhaps...a utopian society? :thinking:

Or a rational one? :thinking:

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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Alex123 » Mon Aug 12, 2013 6:12 pm

It seems that any religion that promises better life after this one if one behaves well in this life (and of course, submits to authority) is opiate for the masses.

Religion is great way to make someone feel better about mortality and suffering in this life and hell to hedonists and others who live life more fully.

Religion can be great tool for ambitious people to use to exploit the gullible masses who are taught that evil doers will go to hell and their passivity and austerity will be rewarded...

People possessing the functions that religion provides are likely to adopt atheism, people lacking these very functions (e.g., the poor, the helpless) are likely to adopt theism,” the researchers wrote.
http://ca.news.yahoo.com/religious-peop ... 50723.html
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby Kamran » Mon Sep 02, 2013 11:46 pm

Pepper disputes Thanisarro's interpretation of the Buddha's awakening. But even if that's a valid criticism, it does not support his argument that people should "engage, judge, and change" the world instead of developing detachment.

It also does not negate Thanissaro's teaching of the actual practice or the usefulness of the huge wealth of resources he provides.

Thanissaro is not dogmatic and does not demand his students to agree with everything he says. For example, he acknowledges in a very congenial manner that most of his students don't believe in literal rebirth.

Pepper implies that Thanissaro teaches "pure self" but Thanissaro points out that the BUddha did not teach anything like Buddha Nature.

Last but not least, Pepper's points are obscured by an extremely arrogant tone. Hopefully, he continues to practice and develops an alternative source of happiness than thinking about how smart he his :)
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Re: Is Buddhism an Opiate for the People?

Postby lyndon taylor » Tue Sep 03, 2013 1:34 am

I suppose by the same criteria, education would be the opiate of the masses, anything that promises a better life by completion of its programme(education) would have to be an opiate. Or maybe our criteria are completely wrong and Buddhism is not the opiate, or education......
18 years ago I made one of the most important decisions of my life and entered a local Cambodian Buddhist Temple as a temple boy and, for only 3 weeks, an actual Therevada Buddhist monk. I am not a scholar, great meditator, or authority on Buddhism, but Buddhism is something I love from the Bottom of my heart. It has taught me sobriety, morality, peace, and very importantly that my suffering is optional, and doesn't have to run my life. I hope to give back what little I can to the Buddhist community that has so generously given me so much, sincerely former monk John
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